(NEW YORK) – PEN America announced today that it has received a transformational gift of $2 million from the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation to fortify and expand the work of PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) to protect artists facing persecution and to defend artistic freedom globally. As artists come under danger and threat in Ukraine and elsewhere, this generous gift will give them the financial support they need to sustain themselves and their art practice.

The grant will support two initiatives over the course of three years: 

  • The first, to launch the Emergency and Resilience Fund for Visual Artists at risk in Ukraine and the region in response to the current crisis, including grants covering basic needs as well as those helping artists to advance their creative work; and
  • The second, to expand support for the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) program, which assists artists globally who are threatened, endangered, or otherwise facing persecution due to their creative work or as a consequence of war and political crisis.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine immediately upended the lives of millions of civilians, including artists, who have faced the difficult choice of staying to defend their homeland or leaving for safety. At the same time, dissident artists in Russia and Belarus face an escalating crackdown on artistic expression as their authoritarian governments seek to purge anti-war sentiments and target opposition voices, prompting many artists to flee for countries where they will be able to create freely.

The emergency funds offered by ARC will support the short-term needs of visual artists from the region, such as basic expenses for food, clothes, utilities, or rent, or urgent needs such as security, medical, and mental health expenses. The resilience funds will address longer-term needs that will enable visual artists to return to and sustain their work, such as the cost of new equipment, classes and workshops, and travel funds. As the needs for Ukrainian artists are more immediate, ARC will kick off the launch of this new initiative with the emergency fund for Ukrainian artists. The application form for Ukrainian visual artists can be found here.

“We are profoundly grateful to the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation for enabling timely and targeted assistance to artists who face grave risks and disruption as a consequence of the Ukraine war,” said Suzanne Nossel, Chief Executive Officer of PEN America. “This transformational support will make possible direct financial support for artists working under enormous strain and danger, providing emergency funds to underwrite basic needs and enable them to sustain their artistic practice. Additionally, this support will fortify the core work of our Artists at Risk Connection program and help us to continue to build and expand our global efforts on behalf of artists and artistic freedom.”

Julie Trebault, Director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) at PEN America, said: “Over the past two months, we have witnessed devastating attacks on the people of Ukraine and the destruction of the country’s cultural heritage, arts and culture. Millions have fled the country, while many others have chosen to remain, with cultural institutions such as museums and theaters serving as shelters and community spaces. We are honored and humbled by the generosity of the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation in making these resources available to ARC so we can support at-risk artists in Ukraine and around the world at this crucial time. With this funding support, ARC will expand beyond our origins as a connector between artists and organizations, allowing us to immediately support visual artists in need with life-changing funds to help their security and allow their artistic practice to flourish.”

Since the beginning of the war, many Ukrainian artists have courageously used their platforms to speak out against the invasion, coordinate and draw attention to relief efforts, raise emergency funds, and enlist in the Ukrainian army, among other actions. Protest art, songs, and posters have proliferated online, from emotional depictions of the toll of the war to how-to guides on making Molotov cocktails. Ukraine’s cultural heritage is under attack, with at least 53 cultural sites destroyed around the country, including museums, monuments, and historic buildings, leading artists to play a crucial role in defending and preserving culture through their creative expression. As the director of the Lviv Municipal Art Center, Lyana Mytsko said, “Every [Ukrainian artist] is a gun of Ukrainian culture. Every one of them can make music, can make pictures and can take our soul up, up, up.”

While the funds administered by ARC will be limited to visual artists, PEN America and ARC will continue to support and advocate for artists and writers in Ukraine through the PEN America Endangered Writers Fund and the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Center. Since the crisis began, ARC has brought together global arts and human rights organizations to share resources for Ukrainian artists and writers; published a list of these resources on our website; and organized vigils and online events. Next month, the PEN America World Voices Festival will, in direct response to the Ukraine war, convene an Emergency World Voices Congress of Writers discussing solidarity, free expression, and the role of writers amid times of upheaval on May 13. That evening, the Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture will be given by PEN Ukraine President and acclaimed writer Andrey Kurkov, who has documented the horrors of the current war and the resilience of Ukrainians.

About the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC)

The Artists at Risk Connection (ARC), a project of PEN America, safeguards the right to artistic freedom of expression around the world and works to ensure that artists of all disciplines everywhere can live and work without fear. With a global network of 800 organizations providing crucial resources for artists and cultural practitioners at risk, ARC plays the critical role of liaising between threatened artists and the organizations that support them. Since its inception, ARC has supported more than 500 artists from over 63 countries in receiving direct support, including fellowships and residencies, emergency funding, legal assistance, and advocacy, among other forms of assistance, from partner organizations. Learn more at artistsatriskconnection.org

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, STrimel@PEN.org 201-247-5057